Archive for Native Michigan Plants

March is the Time for Making Maple Syrup

Posted in Dining with Pat, I Wish I'd Thought About That, Lifestyle, Worth Repeating with tags , , , , on March 12, 2014 by Pat Hansen

Making maple syrup is a traditional right of spring, signaling the end of winter. Several species of maple trees grow in Michigan. Although all produce sap suitable for the production of maple syrup; two species, sugar maple and black maple are the source of sap for most commercial maple syrup production. Sap suitable for conversion into syrup may also be obtained from red and silver maples, although such sap usually has a lower sugar content.

**NOTE: The E. L. Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
is hosting “A Day in the Sugarbush Maple Tapping
this Saturday, March 15, 2014.
Details are noted at the end of this article**

Necessary Equipment

Collection-PailMaple syrup can be produced with a minimum of equipment, but a few standard items increase the efficiency of the operation and the quality of the product, including:

  1. A drill with a 7/16 or 1/2 inch bit for drilling tap-holes in trees.
  2. A metal or plastic collection spout for each tap-hole.
  3. A collection container (bucket or plastic bag) or tubing line for each tap-hole.
  4. A large pan and a heat source for boiling down the sap. The size needed will depend on how much sap you intend to handle.
  5. A large-scale thermometer, calibrated at least 15 degrees above the boiling point of water.
  6. Wool, Orlon or other filters for filtering finished syrup while hot.
  7. Storage containers for the finished syrup.

Tapping the Tree

TapTo obtain the earliest runs of sap, tapping should be completed by the first week in March in Michigan. Minimal trunk diameter for trees suitable for tapping is 10 inches at 4 feet above the ground.

To tap a tree, select a spot on the trunk of the tree 2-4 feet above the ground in an area that appears to contain sound wood. At this point, drill a hole approximately 2-2.5 inches deep into the wood. Then insert a collection spout and tap lightly into the tree and attach a bucket or plastic bag or a tubing line to the spout. Open buckets used for sap collection should be covered to keep out rainwater, debris, insects and other foreign materials.

Collecting the Sap

Collecting-SapSap flow in maple trees will not occur every day throughout the tapping season. It occurs when a rapid warming trend in early morning follows a cool (below freezing) night.

To collect the sap from the tree, simply hang a bucket on the tap and watch the first few drips fall into the bucket. This should happen quickly, though there will be little drips that won’t amount to much at first. Place a lid over the bucket and let the sap continue to drip.

After a day or two, you can check to see just how far your sap collection has come. If you are satisfied with the progress, you can drain this bucket into a larger vat to take inside to start the syrup making process. Do not store the sap as it can spoil.

Turning Sap into Syrup

Syrup-KettleWhen you have a large quantity of sap, it’s time to cook it up to make the syrup. This is done by boiling the sap in a large pan on the stove as long as you have a vent fan and a dehumidifier on hand. When you boil sap, it can produce considerable moisture in the air. Professionals prefer to use outdoor gas ranges with large metal pans in order to avoid the moisture build up in their homes. There is also a hobby-sized evaporator available.

Boil the sap until it becomes thicker as the water boils off. You will need to continue to add sap to the pan, never letting the level get below 1-1/2 inches from the bottom of the pan.

As the sap is boiling, you need to skim off any foam that might be on the top. Using a candy thermometer, boil the sap until it is 7 degrees above the boiling temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you have reached this level, let the syrup completely cool. The sugar sand and other matter will settle to the bottom, allowing you to pour off the good syrup into a glass bottle. Let it cool and you are ready to serve homemade maple syrup.

If you plan to can the syrup, make sure to can the syrup at 180 degrees Fahrenheit and pour into sterilized glass containers to prevent spoilage and contamination by bacteria.

Sugar-ShackIf you feel that making your own maple syrup is a task too daunting to undertake, you can visit the Bloomfield Hills’ E. L. Johnson Nature Center this Saturday, March 15, 2014 and participate in tapping the trees, collecting the sap and visiting the sugar shack to watch the boiling process that produces pure maple syrup. Then, you can visit the log home for a taste of nature’s sweetener!

For a guided tour, meet at the Visitor Center:

  • Tours are from noon to 4:00 pm.
  • Tours are scheduled every 20 minutes and last approximately one hour.
  • Pre-registration is suggested to reserve a specific time: click here for details

E. L. Johnson Nature Center is located at 3325 Franklin Road, Bloomfield Hills, MI; phone: 248-341-6485; website: http://naturecenter.bloomfield.org/

How do Leaves Change Colors in the Fall?

Posted in Around Your Home, Lifestyle with tags , , on October 9, 2012 by Pat Hansen

Several factors contribute to fall color, but the main agent is light, or actually the lack of it. As the autumn days grow shorter, the reduced light triggers chemical changes in deciduous leaves causing a corky wall to Fall colors - redform between the twig and the leaf stalk. As the corky cells multiply, they seal off the vessels that supply the leaf with nutrients and water, and also block the exit vessels, trapping simple sugars in the leaves. The combination of reduced light, lack of nutrients and no water, add up to the demise of the pigment chlorophyll, the “green” in leaves.

Once the green is gone, two other pigments show their bright faces. These pigments, carotene (yellow) and anthocyanin (red) exist in the leaf all summer but are masked by the chlorophyll. The browns in autumn leaves are the result of tannin, a chemical that exists in many leaves, especially oaks.

Sugar trapped in autumn leaves by the corky cells also known as the abscission layer is largely responsible for the vivid color. Some additional Fall colors - yellowanthocyanins are also manufactured by sunlight acting on the trapped sugar. This is why the foliage is so sparkling after several bright fall days and more pastel during rainy spells. In general, a dry fall produces the most vibrant color.

Weather conditions in summer and early September, largely determine how brilliant each season’s colors will be.  According to David Beachler, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, a hot, dry summer inflicts stress on the trees; therefore, when it cools, the chlorophyll that breaks down in the leaves can produce a quick colorFall colors - orange change. Autumn rain is desirable, but continuous cloudy weather is not, since that would stop the production that creates the brilliant reds and golds found in oaks and maples, Michigan’s most prevalent tree species.

There are nearly 150 different species of trees in Michigan’s 18.6 million acres of forest.  Our state boasts a colorful mix of yellows, reds, golds and oranges. Some of the most beautiful colors are displayed by such hardwoods as aspen, maple, birch, sumac and oak.  When combined with a background of evergreen forest, the result is one of the best shows in the nation.

Where Have All The Cherries Gone? (and Apples … and Peaches …)

Posted in Local News with tags , on September 19, 2012 by Pat Hansen

Northern Michigan calls itself the Cherry Capital of the World and supplies most of the country’s tart cherries, but the state experienced a huge crop loss in 2012. This has been the worst year in recorded history for Michigan fruit. Statewide, more that 90 percent of the tart cherry crop was lost when freezing weather followed an unusually warm spring.

Northern Michigan is considered by many an ideal place for growing fruit. Located on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole, the surrounding Great Lakes and rolling hills help create a temperate climate.

Cherry trees remain dormant throughout winter until a spring warming wakes them up. That happened much earlier this year. Temperatures in March shattered records across the country, reaching the mid-80’s in Michigan that month – that’s nearly 14 degrees Fahrenheit above the state average. That pushed the trees to a development stage about 5.5 weeks ahead of normal. When temperatures dropped again, the trees’ early buds were vulnerable.  From late March through May, there were 15 to 20 nights in which temperatures fell below freezing. The cold snaps killed not only cherries, but also juice grapes, peaches and apples. Losses across the state are estimated at $210 million.

Each fall, thousands of people visit the local cider mills and orchards to drink cider, eat freshly baked donuts and pick apples. But this year, there is one thing missing: crops. Michigan will only produce about 3 million bushels of apples this year, compared to the 20 to 23 million produced during a normal season, according to the Michigan Apple Committee.

To survive the season, local orchards are cutting hours, planting different crops, and ordering apples from out-of-state farms for making cider. Pumpkins are being sold in place of apples. Many orchards have “Petting Zoos” with lambs, goats and other small animals to the delight of many children. Donuts and hot chocolate replace the cider and donuts.

Many of the growers have been in the business for several generations. Despite their historic losses, there is a common sentiment among the growers; this year’s crop devastation was out of their hands and the growing conditions eventually will improve. These orchards and farms did not become a fourth or fifth generation by not being able to survive a few bad years here in Michigan. They have learned to make the best of the situation.

E.L. Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Twp

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 23, 2012 by Pat Hansen

History

Shortly after World War II, the Olsen family purchased 16 acres along Franklin Rd and built the home that now serves as the caretaker residence at the Nature Center. They dredged the low, swampy area east of their home which eventually filled with natural underground spring water and formed the pond that visitors enjoy today. During the years the Olsen’s lived in the home, they created the natural sanctuary by planting thousands of trees, shrubs and wildflowers. They planted native species and experimented with species from other areas of the country as well. They introduced fish into the pond, and kept detailed records of the wildlife they observed on the property. The Olsen’s sold their beautiful property to the Bloomfield Hills School District in 1968.

Bloomfield Hills School District

The thriving and growing school district purchased additional acreage adjacent to the Olsen property, creating a thirty nine acre site to be used as a nature center to enhance the teaching of science. When Telegraph Road was widened in 1977, a multitude of trees were planted to somewhat screen the Nature Center from the busy road. When the district decided that a good way to enhance Michigan studies for students would be to purchase, relocate, and restore a log cabin of the early nineteenth century era, the availability of land at the Nature Center made it a logical destination site. The search for an existing cabin of that time period was to no avail, so the 1985 recreation millage funds were used to build a facsimile. It was completed in 1987 and was furnished to approximately represent the late 1800’s time period. Today, students and adult visitors, delight in the opportunity to enter the cabin and instantly step more than a hundred years backward in time. Today, the Bloomfield Hills School District integrates the Nature Center as part of the curriculum for grades 1 through 8.

In 2000, an additional .6 acres of land were donated to the Nature Center and subsequently generous grants from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the United States EPA, enabled the demolition of the two, thirty-year old “temporary”, classroom buildings, and the construction of a 5,000 square foot permanent structure designed along “Green” principles to serve as a Visitor Center as well as classroom space. The dedication of the building took place in September, 2006, and the Nature Center continues to serve students, community members and visitors throughout Oakland County, and beyond. The nature center was named the E.L. Johnson Nature Center in honor of the long time, dedicated school district superintendent, E. L. Johnson.

Trail Information

The Nature Center has nearly two miles of mulched trails. The distance around the perimeter trails is 9 tenths of a mile.

  • Pets – Pets are not allowed at the Nature Center due to the caged wildlife and other animals that roam freely on the property.
  • Bicycles – Not allowed on the trails.
  • Fees – There is no trail fee, however, donations are appreciated.
  • Cross Country Skiing Is allowed on all trails.
  • Snowshoeing Is allowed on all trails.
  • Jogging – Is allowed on the trails.
  • Restrooms – Available at Visitor Center
  • Handicapped Access and Strollers – There are no paved trails; however, most of the trails are hard-packed so wheel chairs and strollers can operate when conditions are dry.
  • Benches and Picnic Tables– There are a few scattered throughout the site.

Other Activities Offered at the Nature Center

  • Day Camps throughout the summer months. Registration is required.
  • Fishing on selected weekend dates from June through Aug.; catch and release only; must be accompanied by a parent. Registration required.
  • Fall Family Day featuring canoeing, fishing, crafts.
  • Bird Banding in May; registration required.
  • Maple Syrup tapping and making on selected weekend in March.

You may register online at www.BloomfieldRec.org for the Nature Center Camps or Call 248-433-0885.

The E. L. Johnson Nature Center is located at: 3325 Franklin Road, Bloomfield Hills, MI.  Phone: 248-341-6485

The Information Center Exhibit Room is open on weekends only: Sat. 11-2 and Sun. 12-3

The trails are open week days from 8 am-7 pm; Sat. & Sun. 9 am-4 pm.

The Nature Center offers a peaceful respite from hectic schedules. You can walk the trails or just sit on the dock and watch the fish, frogs and turtles swim by.

Beware of Poison Ivy … a Gardener’s Foe

Posted in Around Your Home, Lifestyle with tags , , , on May 18, 2012 by Pat Hansen

What Is Poison Ivy?  It is a native plant that is food to many birds and many animals. (This is mentioned in case you were wondering why it exists and what good it does.) It can take many forms; most people think of it as a vine rambling up trees. It can also be a ground cover vine weaving its way through grass, weeds and planting beds. It is a three- leaf, waxy green plant that is easily identified. It is also a perennial which means it resurfaces year after year. If you have the misfortune of coming in contact with it, it may leave you with an itchy rash you won’t forget.

You get the rash from poison ivy by coming in contact with urushiol. Urushiol is the oil that flows within the leaves, stems and roots of the plant and on the skin of its berries. This oil has a long life. If you walk through a patch of poison ivy, and put your work boots away for the winter, then put them back on in the spring, the oil that is clinging to your boots can still infect you. It can last for many years, leaving its residue on tool handles, clothing, shoes or boots.

Urushiol Oil Is Potent.

  • Only 1 nanogram (billionth of a gram) is needed to cause a rash
  • 1 to 5 years is normal for urushiol oil to stay active on any surface including dead plants
  • Derived from urushi, Japanese name for lacquer

What Should You Do If Are Exposed To Urushiol?

Once you realize that you have been exposed to poison ivy and urushiol, wash the affected skin with soap and water.  Fels Naptha brown soap is good if you have it on hand. There is a product on the market called Tecnu, which is specifically for poison ivy and it is applied directly to dry skin and rubbed in for two minutes before it is washed off with water. If the rash or blisters appear, Band-Aid Anti-Inch Gel has been very effective for some victims of poison ivy. Since not everyone reacts the same to poison ivy, there is no sure remedy that will help everyone. A pharmacist would certainly give a recommendation. If the symptoms are extremely severe, you should seek a physician’s advice.

What Should You Do to Get Rid Of Poison Ivy?

Organic herbicides such as acid based Burnout or Weed Pharm work well on the leaves of young plants, but they are not systemic and will not kill the roots. If you choose to use organic herbicide, you can try pouring boiling water on the roots. Never burn poison ivy or use a flame weeder as you can get the rash in your lungs from the smoke.

If you plan to cut a vine from a tree or pull out vines from the ground, you should protect yourself by wearing a long sleeve shirt, long pants, tall rubber boots, surgical gloves on your hands and thick rubber gloves over them. Have heavy-duty plastic garbage bags at the ready and place the vines in the bags. It is a good idea to wash the thick rubber gloves while they are still on your hands with Tecnu as described above, following with rubbing alcohol. Remove the thick rubber gloves and keep the surgical gloves on and wipe down the rubber boots, shears and shovel handle with rubbing alcohol using rags or paper towels that will be discarded. Remove the boots and surgical gloves and wash your hands thoroughly with Tecnu, followed by rubbing alcohol. Wash clothes separately from other laundry. Remember … urushiol is tricky stuff; it is better to be safe than sorry.

Creating Flower Beds That Bloom All Summer

Posted in Around Your Home, Lifestyle with tags , , on May 9, 2012 by Pat Hansen

The most crucial step to designing your landscape to bloom all summer is to create a plan before you buy any plants or dig a single hole. Consider sun exposure, soil quality, drainage, and available space. With careful planning and plant selection, gardeners can design their landscape to burst with color from early summer through early fall.

It is useful to photograph your summer landscape at the end of summer. This is helpful in deciding what you need to change or add. At the onset of the next growing season, visit your local nurseries or greenhouse to check the blooming periods, sun, shade or partial shade requirements of all the new plants you wish to purchase. All of the plants are labeled with this information as well as the ultimate size or height of the plant. This is very helpful in planning an interesting and well thought out landscape design ensuring continuous blossoms all season long.

Depending on the size of the garden, a selection of both perennials and annuals creates a very colorful and continually blooming garden all summer long.

Three great perennial choices to start with that bloom all summer long are:

  • Moonbeam coreopsis comes in yellow, pink and red.
  • Russian sage is lavender blue and can grow to four feet in height, but can be pruned to three feet.
  • Purple cornflower is a tall daisy-like flower in a pinkish-purple color.

There are many more perennials that add color and interest to the landscape and they include but are not limited to:

  • Daylillies
  • Black-eyed Susans
  • Phlox
  • Catmint
  • Asters
  • Bellflowers
  • Dianthus
  • Astilbe
  • Gaillardia

When selecting perennials, consider the flower color, height and blooming time of your expectations. Not all perennials have the same blooming life.

Don’t forget the annuals as they usually bloom all summer long.

  • Petunias continue to be one of most popular summer annuals and need full sun and well-drained soil. They come in various colors.
  • Impatiens bloom well in partial shade and are available in pink, red, white, salmon and occasionally in blue.
  • Marigolds are one of the easiest annuals to grow. They add a touch of orange or yellow to the landscape.
  • Zinnias come in a variety of colors.
  • Snapdragons are available in yellow, orange, pink and even red, and flower all summer and into the fall. They sometimes re-seed.
  • Ageratum, available in a delicate purple is an excellent low-growing border plant.
  • Geraniums are a popular container annual and coupled with white petunias and vinca vine make an excellent patio or window box display.

After you have chosen and planted your favorite flowers, you still have some work to do.

  • Fertilizing: Most experts say you should do this every six to eight weeks.
  • Watering: Strange as this may sound, daily watering isn’t a good idea. Experts prefer you water less frequently. They recommend that you water more heavily. Deeper watering less often helps the root system to grow stronger.
  • Mulching: This should be done right after planting full sun flowers. Mulching helps keep the moisture within your soil, helps keep weeds from growing and keeps the soil cooler.
  • Weeding: This may not be a fun activity. Weeds are unsightly and can choke the flowers.
  • Grooming: Some flowers require no grooming; others need deadheading, trimming and pinching. Follow the instructions that come with the flower.

Now that you have the basics covered, take the time to enjoy and smell your flowers.

March is the Time for Making Maple Syrup

Posted in Dining with Pat, Lifestyle with tags , , , on March 7, 2012 by Pat Hansen

Making maple syrup is a traditional right of spring, signaling the end of winter. Several species of maple trees grow in Michigan.  Although all produce sap suitable for the production of maple syrup; two species, sugar maple and black maple are the source of sap for most commercial maple syrup production.  Sap suitable for conversion into syrup may also be obtained from red and silver maples, although such sap usually has a lower sugar content.

Equipment Necessary

Maple syrup can be produced with a minimum of equipment, but a few standard items increase the efficiency of the operation and the quality of the product:

  1. A drill with a 7/16 or 1/2 inch bit for drilling tap-holes in trees.
  2. A metal or plastic collection spout for each tap-hole.
  3. A collection container (bucket or plastic bag) or tubing line for each tap-hole.
  4. A large pan and a heat source for boiling down the sap.  The size needed will depend on how much sap you intend to handle.
  5. A large-scale thermometer, calibrated at least 15 degrees above the boiling point of water.
  6. Wool, Orlon or other filters for filtering finished syrup while hot.
  7. Storage containers for the finished syrup.

Tapping the Tree

To obtain the earliest runs of sap, tapping should be completed by the first week in March in Michigan. Minimal trunk diameter for trees suitable for tapping is 10 inches at 4 feet above the ground.

To tap a tree, select a spot on the trunk of the tree 2 to 4 feet above the ground in an area that appears to contain sound wood.  At this point, drill a hole approximately 2 to 2.5 inches deep into the wood. Then insert a collection spout and tap lightly into the tree and attach a bucket or plastic bag or a tubing line to the spout.  Open buckets used for sap collection should be covered to keep out rainwater, debris, insects and other foreign materials.

Collecting the Sap

Sap flow in maple trees will not occur every day throughout the tapping season.  It occurs when a rapid warming trend in early morning follows a cool (below freezing) night.

To collect the sap from the tree, simply hang a bucket on the tap and watch the first few drips fall into the bucket.  This should happen quickly, though there will be little drips that won’t amount to much at first.  Place a lid over the bucket and let the sap continue to drip.

After a day or two, you can check to see just how far your sap collection has come. If you are satisfied with the progress, you can drain this bucket into a larger vat to take inside to start the syrup making process.  Do not store the sap as it can spoil.

Turning Sap into Syrup

When you have a large quantity of sap, it’s time to cook it up to make the syrup. This is done by boiling the sap in a large pan on the stove as long as you have a vent fan and a dehumidifier on hand. When you boil sap, it can produce considerable moisture in the air. Professionals prefer to use outdoor gas ranges with large metal pans in order to avoid the moisture build up in their homes. There is also a hobby-sized evaporator available.

Boil the sap until it becomes thicker as the water boils off. You will need to continue to add sap to the pan, never letting the level get below 1-1/2 inches from the bottom of the pan.

As the sap is boiling, you need to skim off any foam that might be on the top. Using a candy thermometer, boil the sap until it is 7 degrees above the boiling temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you have reached this level, let the syrup completely cool. The sugar sand and other matter will settle to the bottom, allowing you to pour off the good syrup into a glass bottle.  Let it cool and you are ready to serve homemade maple syrup.

If you plan to can the syrup, make sure to can the syrup at 180 degrees Fahrenheit and pour into sterilized glass containers to prevent spoilage and contamination by bacteria.

If you feel that making your own maple syrup is a task too daunting to undertake, you can visit the Bloomfield Hills, E. L. Johnson Nature Center on March 17, 2012 and participate in tapping the trees, collecting the sap and visiting the sugar shack to watch the boiling process that produces pure maple syrup. Then, you can visit the log home for a taste of nature’s sweetener!

E. L. Johnson Nature Center is located at: 3325 Franklin Rd, Bloomfield Hills, MI Phone: (248) 341-6485.  Website: http://naturecenter.bloomfield.org/

Meet at the Visitor Center for a guided tour.  Tours are conducted on March 17, 2012 and are scheduled every 20 minutes and last approximately one hour. Pre-registration is suggested to reserve a specific time. Tours start at Noon and run to 4:00 pm.

Maple Leaf Tar Spot

Posted in Around Your Home with tags , , on October 25, 2011 by Pat Hansen

There is a fungus on my maple trees and it is called Maple Leaf Tar Spot.  It is easy to identify due to the black spots on the leaves.  It is caused by a fungal pathogen which affects maple trees, especially the Norway Maple, Sugar Maple and Silver Maple.

Thinking that the trees would be harmed by this fungus, I had the lawn and tree service spray the maple trees this past spring and periodically thereafter through the fall.  This service was expensive and to no avail. The spots returned. They first appeared as small yellow spots in June, then progressed to the familiar black spots, some of which were 1/8 inch in diameter. By mid-August, many of the leaves had dropped to the ground.

Disappointed by the reoccurrence of the fungus, I decided to consult a certified arborist who confirmed that the trees had the Maple Leaf Tar Spot fungus. After learning that the fungus is not fatal like the Dutch Elm Disease. I asked about treatment and prevention.

Spraying the trees was not recommended as a treatment or prevention.  The advice seemed simple and reasonable. Fall leaf clean-up was crucial. The most important reason is that several prolific tree problems originate in dead leaves. Dead leaves harbor several types of fungus that can winter-over underneath the snow.  This moist environment is perfect for the fungus to multiply in the spring, spreading to the tree’s leaves.  When the spring is rainy and cold like it was last spring, the chance of having the fungus reappear is inevitable. However, if we are fortunate to have a warm, dry spring, the fungus may not return.

Lesson learned from this . . . it is best to consult and follow the advice of a certified arborist. The fee of $45.00 for the arborist to check all seven trees on my property was far less than what the other service charged for the spraying.

Help Keep Local Waterways Healthy

Posted in Around Your Home, Green Building with tags , , , , on July 11, 2011 by Kevin Fox

There’s no question that everybody wants healthy streams, creeks and green spaces in their community for their family to enjoy safely. 

Storm-water management — keeping excess runoff from rain and snow and the contaminants that they carry from polluting local water sources — is essential to maintain the health and well-being of native fish and wildlife, as well as the quality of water that your family uses every day.

Home builders install silt fences and dig retention ponds to control storm-water runoff during construction.  But once a community is completed, the way it is maintained makes a big difference to the health of nearby waterways.

Consider the following ways that you can help keep your community clean and healthy for the enjoyment of many generations to come.

Lawn aeration

Often overlooked is the need to aerate your lawn.  Over time the soil becomes compacted.  Aeration allows water to penetrate the ground, rather than run off.  This helps reduce compaction while allowing your lawn’s roots to grow deeper.  A deeper root system gives your lawn the ability to better withstand  the dry summer months. Aeration is best done before the ground dries up and hardens.  The best times are spring and fall.  Fertilizing your lawn after aeration is a good practice as it allows the fertilizer to be more effective and less fertilizer will be washed away during a rain.

Fertilizing

When it rains, lawns that are over-fertilized can wash pesticides and herbicides into the storm drains on your street, eventually carrying it to the local water source — possibly the source of your drinking water.

According to the Center for Watershed Protection, more than 50 percent of lawn owners fertilize their lawns, but only 10 to 20 percent of those home owners actually perform a soil test to determine the fertilization needs of the lawn.  Before you buy your first bag, take time to do the soil test — you may find that you don’t even need to fertilize.

If you do need to fertilize your lawn:

  • Aerate your lawn first
  • Keep it on the grass, use it sparingly, and consider using organic products
  • Hold off if there is a chance of a rain storm shortly after applying it to your lawn
  • When you mow, don’t bag the grass. The clippings will naturally fertilize your lawn. But sweep those fertilizer-rich clippings off the sidewalk and roadway so they don’t go down the storm drain.

Trees

Planting a tree is a great way to help keep polluted storm-water from reaching storm drains.  The roots help rain water filter back into the soil, cutting down on excess runoff.  

As an added benefit, trees can help cut summer cooling costs by providing shade to the home, and in many cases they help to increase the value of your home.

Gardens

Plants that are native to your region require less water and nutrients to survive and are more resistant to pests and disease — therefore less fertilization is required.  Information about native Michigan plants can be found at the following web sites:

MICH DNR – Native Plants

Absolute Michigan

Rain Barrels

Rain barrels collect storm-water runoff from a home’s roof via the rain gutters. They hold the water temporarily, cutting down on the amount of water that reaches the sewer system. The water can then be used to water lawns and gardens.  

Purchase your rain barrel at a local home and garden store or build it yourself — step-by-step instructions are available on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website, EPA – Rain Barrels

These are just a few suggestions to help get you started on the road to a cleaner and healthier community.  Get involved in your local watershed organization to find out how you can make a difference.  Visit www.epa.gov and search for “surf your watershed.”

For more information on storm-water management and other environmental initiatives visit the National Association of Home Builders at www.nahb.org

Rain Gardens: Combining Beauty with Function

Posted in Around Your Home, Green Building, I Wish I'd Thought About That, Renovation, The Drawing Board with tags , , , , on May 18, 2011 by Pat Hansen

The purpose of a rain garden isn’t limited to what grows in it. It is a landscape area that functions as a small-scale, temporary wetland.

A rain garden consists of a shallow depression that is planted with shrubs, flowers and grasses that are native to a region. Also called a bio-retention area, the rain garden’s saucer-like shape and water tolerant native plants, help precipitation absorb into the ground. It is not a retention pond, which can become a breeding area for mosquitoes. A rain garden is designed to hold water above ground for only a short while, as it filters down into the soil, making it a good landscaping choice for low-lying, often soggy problem areas in many yards. These planting beds work to manage excessive rainfall.

Rainwater itself, usually isn’t the problem, storm water runoff is. By allowing the runoff to be absorbed into a rain garden, the amount of pollution and sediment reaching creeks, streams and rivers can be significantly reduced. The gardens offer an earth friendly, attractive alternative to piping rainwater to the nearest sewer.

Native plants are recommended for rain gardens because they adapt to both extreme dry and extreme wet conditions. These plants take up excess water flowing into the rain garden, and standing water is only present for a limited amount of time. The water filters through both soil layers and root systems, before entering the groundwater system, which enhances infiltration, moisture redistribution and provides habitat for microbial populations involved in bio-filtration. Also, through the process of transpiration, rain garden plants return water into the atmosphere and provide a local cooling effect. Rain gardens can contain many different mixes of wildflowers, sedges, rushes, ferns, shrubs and small trees. Plants from a local nursery are well adapted locally, and are usually the safest to use in the long run. It is important to determine where the plants came from before purchasing them. Were the plants wild-collected or were they propagated at the nursery? Collecting plants in the wild can devastate local plant populations, so insist on plants propagated from division, cuttings or seeds. Additionally, propagated plants tend to be healthier than wild-collected plants making them better for the rain garden.

  • It is recommended that the garden bed be built with a planting mix of sand (25-35%), compost (50% or more) and native soil (15-25%). For a small rain garden, variations of these proportions may be workable.
  • Stabilize the top of the garden with natural mulch, 2-3 inches deep. The mulch acts as a sponge to capture heavy metals, oils and grease. Bacteria break down the pollutants as the mulch decays. The mulch also reduces weeds and maintenance.
  • Select natural mulch such as aged, shredded hardwood bark that will gradually decompose, adding compost (humus) to the soil. Apply the mulch to a depth of 2-4 inches and replenish as needed.

Ask your local nursery for plant, tree and shrub suggestions. It may be a good idea to do a sketch, to scale, of the rain garden area before going to the nursery to purchase your plantings.

A rain garden gives you an opportunity to make the most of every rainy day. Rather than allowing rainwater runoff to flow into the sewer, why not capture this valuable resource in your own beautiful and functional rain garden?

For more information on Michigan native plant material, you can read more HERE

%d bloggers like this: